We are officially 90 days into our adventure, which at this point could be described as either the longest vacation ever, or a potential full-on lifestyle change. Today I write this from our Airbnb in Athens, Greece; the 19th country we’ve visited since setting out on this journey. To commemorate these three months on the road, I made a list of 90 things I’ve learned along the way. I thought this was too long to read without falling asleep and figured you would feel the same way so instead I picked five notable things I’ve experienced or realized since quitting my job, leaving our home, selling off our belongings, pulling my kids out of school, and pretty much kicking everything that was steady and normal right to the curb.
These five things are important for you to know if you might, in fact, be considering an adventure of your own. If you are more comfortable viewing this from a voyeur’s chair, I hope this gives a peek into what the experience is like so that you can live vicariously. (If you are sadistic and secretly want to see the full list of 90 things, drop me a note and I’ll post it.)
1. When you take off to travel in exotic places, you essentially do regular things, but now experience the same-old, same-old in new places and fascinating ways. You wake up to different sounds. Your morning routine and breakfast standard are different because you are working from a strange kitchen with new tools (sometimes better, sometimes worse.) We’ve learned to make good coffee from a variety of methods, from a standard American drip coffee maker, to a stove-top espresso pot, to a plain ole’ saucepan on a burner. You can go for a jog around epic wonders of the world. You see the same kinds of people that you see from home: People in need. People in love. People fighting. Babies crying. Kids laughing. You taste new tastes: aloe juice, grape leaves, stinky cheese, dishes with mysterious new vegetables. Your kids fall asleep at the dinner table. You fall asleep at the dinner table. You drink new drinks and learn how to say ‘toast” in the local language. You learn that the way you do things isn’t the way the rest of the world does. You shit in new and interesting bathroom configurations. You open doors and windows, lock locks and ride elevators in designs that you didn’t think were possible. You turn blacker than a kettle with annoyance at obnoxious tourists and the damage done by their behaviors. You see sunrises and sunsets and stars and the moon from amazing vantage points. You go from point A to point B using new forms of transportation and your own two feet. You stand in awe of things while standing next to people from all over the world. (Yesterday, we stood with locals and tourists alike around a small fountain with turtles. One turtle was attempting to climb up onto a tall rock to sun himself, and we all quietly cheered him on in each attempt, and moaned in empathy when he failed to make it.) The simple basics of life don’t change, but a great part of the adventure and personal growth arises from experiencing them in an unexpected or different way.
2. When you talk with someone from back home who is living life the way you used too, they sound like aliens from another planet. You will giggle to yourself when someone gives you an update on what’s going on. Some of the things seem so silly. And yet, it was just a few short months ago that you were doing the exact same thing like how deeply angered they are when an incorrect order arrives exactly on time, to their doorstep, placed just yesterday from their favorite website. Their life’s quest to find a new and only slightly different X to replace the X they already have that still works just fine. Work politics. Friend and family politics. Political politics. They know every news headline but stammer to find context beyond their hometown or home country. How little is accomplished at the office or in their home renovation or with any other recent challenge. In the time that it has taken most people to renew their driver’s license, I’ve been able to explore and breathe in a few of the world’s greatest cities and cultures. While some complain and continue to expand what they need in order to be happy, we’ve learned how to live with so little on the road. You’ll have developed a new perspective on life by viewing it from the different vantage points of different cultures, places and living scenarios.
3. Sometimes, even though you are on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in an incredible place with new cool and amazing things to see and experience around every corner, you will be lazy and want to stay at home and do nothing. And that’s okay: travel isn’t easy. It takes a lot of energy to build a rhythm to your life, a rhythm that was much easier back at home because many of the parts were regulated and innate, like work and school schedules and meal times. It’s hard to build that in different cultures and places, like when your body says it’s lunch but the Spanish culture says it’s siesta. Or when you are up and ready to start your day at 8:00 a.m., but the rest of the town doesn’t make a sound until 10:00 a.m. (usually because they were up until midnight the night before, while you rested your weary travel eyes in bed by 9:00 p.m.) When you are in a permanent home, you know where you keep the spatula, you know which neighborhoods to avoid, you know where to find the best ice cream, you know where to buy socks. Simple things like saying hello and thank you now requires a brain search of which city you’re in and which language you should be speaking. Or making measurement or currency or temperature conversations. Many days of consecutive travel can wear on you, so a lazy day where you stay in your pajamas, surf the internet, and watch movies is just as therapeutic on the road as it is on a Saturday back in your old life.
4. People will ask you to summarize your many travel experiences into a single and succinct answer to this question: “So, what’s been your favorite place?” Be prepared for it. I never am. I stumble and stutter and feel stupid that I don’t have a perfect answer that intelligently and eloquently articulates my number one favorite moment or single favorite place. It’s like asking me to tell you which of my kids is my favorite. I love them all deeply. Every place I’ve visited is my favorite place while I’m there. Every place leaves a different mark in my memory. It’s not easy for me to sum up all that we’ve experienced into a neat and tidy package. But I’ll keep working on it.
5. Surprise! Your kids will learn way more than you think they will. Aghast! Your kids will not know some basics. I’m amazed and surprised on a daily basis what my kids learn from our travels. They know they need to pack their bag efficiently so that we only take carry-ons and avoid baggage fees. They have learned about the gravity of war and evil by seeing Auschwitz, the Berlin Wall, the bunker where Hitler committed suicide and Anne Frank’s house. They have learned about powerful female warriors like Athena who shaped and influenced society in ancient Greece two millennia ago. They know more about the International Space Station then your average person from their school time spent on Khan Academy. But they also haven’t been in a traditional school setting for a while, so they are missing some of the things that require repetition. My youngest son can read at a basic level, but he can’t get the alphabet quite right and mixes up his capital and lowercase letters. They think Ireland and Pakistan are two of the 50 US states. These things alone are not a big deal, but they are basics that need to be taught and reviewed consistently so that they can eventually merge back into a public school system.
Bonus item from my 10-year-old that is generally good life advice: Pack cozy pants. You’ll always be warm, and, well, they are cozy.